By Ahmed Tolba and Eric Knecht
CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafik, who returned home from the United Arab Emirates after announcing his bid for Egypt’s presidency, appeared in Cairo on Sunday to say he was still considering his run in next year’s election.
Shafik’s comments on a private Cairo television station came a day after his family said he had been taken from their home in the Emirates and deported back to Egypt, where they said they had lost contact with him until late on Sunday.
Shafik, a former air force chief and government minister, has been seen by critics of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the strongest potential challenger to the president, who is expected to run for a second term next year.
Details about what happened to Shafik between his leaving the UAE on Saturday and his declaration on Sunday were unclear. He made a surprise announcement from the UAE last week that he planned to run in the 2018 election.
“Today, I am here in the country, so I think I am free to deliberate further on the issue, to explore and go down and talk to people in the street,” he said on Sunday.
“There’s a chance now to investigate more and see exactly what is needed … to feel out if this is the logical choice.”
The interview on Dream TV was Shafik’s first public appearance since leaving the UAE on Saturday. His family said earlier they feared he had been “kidnapped”. Sources said he had been picked up by Egyptian authorities at Cairo airport.
Shafik dismissed reports he had been kidnapped.
His lawyer, Dina Adly, wrote on her Facebook page that she had been able to see him at a Cairo hotel and said he was not subject to any investigations. She did not confirm whether he was able to leave the hotel or country.
“I had a meeting with Shafik an hour ago at one of the hotels in New Cairo and confirmed his health,” Adly wrote on Facebook, referring to a suburban area of Cairo.
“He confirmed that his health was good and that he was not subjected to any investigations,” she wrote.
Shafik’s family said earlier he had been taken from their home on Saturday by UAE authorities and flown by private plane back to Cairo.
“We know nothing about him since he left home yesterday,” Shafik’s daughter May told Reuters on Sunday before his reappearance.
“If he was deported he should have been able to go home by now, not just disappear. We consider him kidnapped.”
UAE authorities confirmed he left the Emirates but gave no details.
A source at the Egyptian interior ministry said: “We do not know anything about Shafik. We did not arrest him and we did not receive any requests from the prosecution to arrest him or bring him back.”
Shafik’s abrupt departure from UAE came weeks after Lebanese officials accused Saudi Arabia of meddling by forcing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign by holding him against his will.
Saudi Arabia denied those charges but the case prompted a crisis and pushed Lebanon back into the center of a regional struggle between Riyadh with its Sunni Gulf allies and Iran.
Sisi is an ally of UAE and Saudi Arabia and his supporters say he is key to Egypt’s stability. Critics say he has eroded freedoms gained after a 2011 uprising that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak and jailed hundreds of dissidents.
Sisi has won backing from Gulf states and has presented himself as a bulwark against Islamist militants since, as army commander, he led the overthrow in 2013 of former president Mohamed Mursi of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood.
After four decades in the military, Shafik touted his military experience as one of his strengths in the 2012 vote.
But he fled to the UAE to escape corruption charges in June 2012. He dismissed the charges as politically motivated and was taken off airport watchlists last year.
In UAE, his family said he had round-the-clock security at home and informed authorities about his whereabouts. Soon after his announcement on Wednesday, he claimed he had been blocked from traveling, but his family later said he had been given assurances he could travel.
Sisi has yet to announce his own intentions for the election. His supporters dismiss criticism over rights abuses and say any measures are needed for security in the face of an Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of police and soldiers.
His government is struggling to crush the insurgency in the North Sinai region and has enacted painful austerity reforms over the last year which critics say have eroded his popularity.
(Additional reporting by Amina Ismail and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)